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  • Dec 16, 2016
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Personalizing Pinterest’s new user experience abroad

Andrew Liu

Andrew Liu is a software engineer on the Topics team

Pinterest is a catalog of ideas people use to discover and do what they love. With more than half of Pinners using our app outside of the U.S., we’ve been making significant improvements to show people content that matches their unique tastes, no matter where they live or what language they speak. Before, when we talked to Pinners around the world, one common piece of feedback was that Pinterest felt foreign to them from the moment they signed up. In this post we’ll cover how we overhauled the new user experience for people outside the U.S., made it more personalized and increased new user activation and retention by 5-10 percent. 

Revamping the new user experience

Our first step in improving the signup experience for users outside the U.S. was understanding what people look for when they come to Pinterest. Conceptually, Pinterest organizes interests and ideas into what we call topics. When someone first signs up, we ask them to identify their interests from a set of topics we then turn into a personalized home feed. Previously, international Pinners chose from the same set of topics as those in the U.S. but since interests differ around the world, we wanted to personalize this experience.

Figure 1: Previous new user topic picker for men in Germany

Identifying local interests

To find the most relevant topics, we analyzed what people find most interesting on Pinterest and how they engage with that content. We looked at the most common board topics from country to country because saving a Pin to a board is an important signal for a user’s interests. We also analyzed a massive search query log to identify relevant topics using top search queries by country. After combining these signals, we sent topic candidates to our in-country teams for review. This approach leveraged both data signals from Pinner engagement and domain knowledge from local experts. 

Supporting content country by country

After identifying a set of topics for a country, the next step was finding the best content. With increasing international usage, we now have Pins in more languages than ever. From previous A/B experiments, we know Pinners are much more likely to save Pins in their language, so for candidate topics, we only show content that’s locally relevant. One of the best ways to do this is to show Pins that other local users are saving. Recently, we developed a new way to support topics for different countries by showing Pins from relevant Boards.

A simple way to find boards related to a given topic is by matching the topic’s name with a board’s title. Instead of using a strict title match, we used fuzzy matching with synonyms in order to increase the number of candidates. In our matching strategy, we ignored whitespace and non-alphabetical characters. For example, when matching “dogs” we also looked at similarly named boards like “dog”, “d o g s”, and “puppies!! ♥”.

Next, we ranked the candidates using a rich set of signals including Pinner engagement, board relevancy and recent board activity. To boost local content, we scored boards higher if they had a large number of Pins that were relevant to a Pinner’s language. After ranking, we further vetted the boards by sending them to our in-country teams to help ensure high relevance and quality.

Figure 2: Overhauled new user topic picker for men in Germany

Impact

When we rolled out these changes abroad, we saw a huge increase in new user activation, and those who signed up were 5-10 percent more likely to come back and use Pinterest. Our experiments confirmed that personalization is critical for helping Pinners outside the U.S. get more value from Pinterest. This new user onboarding experience is available for anyone who speaks French, German, Japanese, Portuguese or Spanish, and we’re planning to roll it out to more languages soon. 

Next steps

While this overhaul is a big improvement, it’s just another step towards delivering a more personalized experience for Pinners around the world. Looking ahead, we’re actively working on further improvements to the experience by providing even better content to Pinners in more countries and more languages.

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